It can be very frightening to find out that someone you know is thinking about suicide. You might be unsure about what to say or do.
You can’t control what someone else does. Suicide is complex and there are many reasons why someone might think about taking their own life.
But there are ways that you can help:
- know the warning signs
- ask them directly
- listen and take them seriously
- provide options
- encourage them to get help.
Know the warning signs
Feeling suicidal can happen to anyone, at any time. Many people go through this.
Some people are at greater risk of feeling suicidal.
Some risk factors are:
- mental health issues
- feeling isolated or disconnected from other people
- drug or alcohol use
- trauma, violence or abuse
- recently starting or stopping medication for a mental health problem
- breaking up with a partner or losing a job
- the death of someone close
- an embarrassing or humiliating experience
- losing a large amount of money
- being part of a marginalised community (for example refugee, LGBTIQ, Indigenous groups).
Particular stages of life are also linked to an increased risk of suicidal thinking, including:
- becoming a new parent
- old age.
Signs you might notice in someone who is feeling this way are:
- withdrawing from social activities, family and friends
- saying things like ‘I can’t go on any more’, ‘I’m a burden’ or ‘everything is hopeless’
- talking about wanting to die
- researching suicide methods
- hurting themselves on purpose (for example, cutting themselves)
- past suicidal behaviour
- putting affairs in order – for example writing a will
- giving things away
- writing a suicide note or goodbye letters
- risk-taking or reckless behaviour.
Trust your instincts about the person. If it doesn't feel right, act on your suspicion. It’s always better to ask.
Ask them directly
If you’re worried, ask the person if they’re thinking of suicide.
It does no harm to ask, and might save their life.
You could say something like: ‘I’ve noticed …. (perhaps something from the list above) and I’m worried about you. Are you thinking about suicide?’
The only way to really know if someone is feeling suicidal is to ask them, and for them to tell you.
Listen and take them seriously
Listen to the person. Accept what they're saying and take them seriously. If they start talking, try not to interrupt or add your feelings to the conversation.
Let them know you care and are concerned. It’s a myth that people who talk about suicide are just looking for attention.
If someone has thoughts of suicide, it can help to explore all the reasons they have for staying alive:
- their family, whānau (Māori extended family), friends and neighbours
- their work colleagues, acquaintances and people they know online
- their pets
- unfinished business in their life
- that suicide is permanent - but with help, suicidal thoughts do pass.
Encourage them to get help
Encourage the person to call a telephone support service, see their GP (family doctor) or go to a hospital.
- Make the phone call with them, or go with them to their GP or a hospital.
- Help them to make contact with family, friends and others in the community that are important to them, for example the kaumātua (Māori elder) or local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health service.
- Be persistent and follow up with them to check they’re OK.
- Never agree to keep a suicide plan a secret.
- Consider making a safety plan (Suicide Call Back Service) or try BeyondNow, the Beyondblue suicide safety planning app.